This year’s Regenerate series looks at the topic of Civic Purpose and our first panel event of 2021 explored what role orchestras should and can play in society?
Our panellists - Grace Bremner, Senior Programme Coordinator at the Local Trust, Lucy Farrant, Director at Young Norfolk Arts, Sarah Sutton, Community Involvement and Creative Civic Change Coordinator for Whitley Bay Big Local, and Kully Thiarai, Creative Director at Leeds 2023 – all brought perspectives from outside the orchestral sector and shared both their personal and professional experiences of the vital and life-enhancing impact the performing arts can have in communities across the UK.
We need to ask what is the story that our work is telling? Is it contemporary and reflecting our society? I don't always see people like me in audiences or on stages. It’s got to be more complex than a player of the same ethnicity. I am more complicated than that.
~ Kully Thiarai
Here are some of the key themes and takeaways from the discussion:
- Building relationships and trust is key to successful community work.
- Bring in social aspects to the work; opportunities for social interactions are key to keeping people engaged. Cups of tea go a long way!
- Arts organisations need to understand the environments in which they are operating, embedding themselves in communities and really understanding what it is you know and more importantly, what you don’t know.
- Representation and the nature of the cannon of work we produce; does our work tell the stories of all the different communities in the UK?
- Experiencing joy and fun are valid outcomes for community work; people want to feel alive and connection, even more so during the pandemic.
- Community work requires a growth mindset; you need to be bold, brave, and comfortable taking risks to create opportunities.
We provide scaffolding for people. It’s an open box for communities to work in but we are there to provide support and guidance. We have even developed peer-mentoring which is a really virtuous circle.
~ Lucy Farrant
- Ask the question “why?” – what is the primary purpose of your work? This requires honest questions about power, opportunities and agency.
- Needing to avoid the “parachuting in” community engagement method and leaving people being felt “done to”, rather than being given opportunities to input into the process.
- Focusing on outcomes and “quality outputs” is not helpful. We need to cede control and power over the work.
- Need to guard against community arts practice becoming a tick box exercise, as more funding streams are dedicated to it.
Never underestimate the power of the community partnerships and relationships that are already established. It’s about knowing the community you are working in.
~ Sarah Sutton
Grace Bremner shared the principles she has used in her programme of community work at the Local Trust:
- Nothing for us without us – create a meaningful role for the community or not at all.
- Be honest – set expectations.
- Think beyond the lifespan of the project.
- Real community engagement is slow and can take years – take an assets’-based approach, look at what already exists, rather than always looking to start from scratch.
- Focus on process and not outcomes – be mindful of power.
- Everybody is an expert in something.
Lots of arts organisation ask about quality when working with communities but they shouldn't be focusing totally on outcomes. It’s about the process and you will always achieve something unexpected.
~ Grace Bremner
The conversation continues on Thursday 25 March at 1pm, when our producing team will discuss in more detail the key themes that emerged from this Regenerate event and how Orchestras Live approaches community engagement. Follow our Instagram page @orchestras_live for more details and to join the live event on the day.
The next Regenerate events in the series will look at Civic Purpose: Returning to normal; do we want to? on Thursday 6 May and Civic Purpose: Diversity and representation on Thursday 30 September.
If you were unable to attend the March event and would like to view the recording, please email us and we will share this with you.
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